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History and the good life in Bellport
By Sarah Hartmann   - 06/05/2008

The Long Island Advance

The South Shore of Long Island can claim with pride several lovely villages that hug the water with the requisite number of beautiful old homes. But of all these comely waterfront villages, only Bellport has managed to retain its strong sense of place. So writes Bellport author Victor Principe in the introduction to his latest pictorial history: Bellport Revisited (Arcadia Publishing, $19.99).

In this compliment piece to his first book, Bellport Village and Brookhaven Hamlet, published in 2001, Principe crafts seven chapters that cover the village’s five historic districts, its commercial center on Main Street, beach and bay scenes that depict a gracious and vibrant waterfront lifestyle, and finally the enigma that is East Patchogue.

Principe, whose goal is to provide a handbook to those who love and esteem the village as much as he does, has researched his subject extensively.

Bellport Revisited is an insightful journey into the village’s past using previously unpublished photographs from both public and private collections as well as Principe’s short narration preceding each chapter. The pictures are many and provide the visual details; the words are few but just as important as the photographs since Principe has used his words with care to provide the necessary context.

For instance, Chapter One entitled “On and Off Main Street” briefly describes the village’s commercial center. Principe appropriately calls it “visually simple” and then elucidates.

The narration fleshes out what has happened to some of the old Bellport houses, noting that some have been “irreparably lost.” Still, the final effect for Bellport remains beautiful. The chapter then proceeds with photographs and explanations beneath that take a close and historic look at Main Street—its views, its people, its businesses, and old homes. While most of the photographs are arresting, some are stories unto themselves. A case in point is the photograph circa 1915 of Major William H. Langley leaning proprietarily on his automobile in front of his estate, Old Kentuck. Seated front and back in the auto are “show ladies from New York City;” posed in front with Langley is his male secretary; seated behind the wheel is the chauffeur. The photograph requires no words to proclaim the major master of his universe.

Four internal chapters describe and depict the village’s five historical districts: Bellport Lane, the first district designated in 2001; the Hulse-Tuthill neighborhood, designated in 2003; Bell Street, designated in 2002; Browns Lane, the oldest street in Bellport and predating the village, designated in 2004; and Academy Lane, designated in 2005. Principe, who is now the vice president of the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society and who serves on the Bellport Historic Preservation Commission, provided the original research that led to the commission’s designation of the historic districts.

The pictorial’s final chapter is entitled “On the Road to Patchogue” and explains how it is that East Patchogue, couched between two very clear and centered communities (Bellport Village and Brookhaven hamlet) has remained “ a place at once suburban and rural” with no collective identity. It goes back to land ownership, economic shift, and a basic desire to remain separate from the tightly knit communities already mentioned. Still, writes Principe, “East Patchogue possesses great charm and beauty.”

In this work, Principe gives credit for Bellport’s unsullied beauty, its continued sense of history and place to determined residents over the centuries like Birdsall Otis Edey who convinced New York state to shift its plans and build Montauk Highway a half mile north of the village rather than through the village. He credits Stephanie Bigelow who led the 10-year successful effort to place 80 Bellport houses on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1980, and village Mayor Frank Trotta for establishing the Bellport Historic Preservation Commission and giving it the power to designate and preserve historic districts and houses in Bellport. “The lesson that Bellport imparts is timeless. Historic preservation makes for good living,” writes Principe in his introduction.

A Bellport resident of 25 years, Principe came to the village in 1968 with the dream of becoming an actor. He had come to do summer stock at the Gateway Theater. Fantasy, however, gave way to reality when Principe noted that he did not have the ego required for the profession. He returned to the city to pursue other ventures. Since 1981, Principe and his partner have been part time residents of both New York City and Bellport. A former successful antiques importer/dealer in the city, Principe is now semi-retired, selling real estate in Manhattan. But his heart belongs to Bellport. “I’m in love with Bellport and would like to write another Bellport-related book, but I have to recuperate from this one first,” he said.

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